The pressure is on
With not long to go before Yeat Wood Farm’s first shoot day, Andy Gray has been busy controlling foxes and dogging-in
With just over a month to go before Yeat Wood Farm’s first shoot day, things on the duck front have been progressing far better than keeper Andy Gray would have thought possible. This is the first time he has reared duck for shooting and it has been a steep learning curve for him. However, the gamekeeping community has been most helpful, especially with regards to ‘training’ the ducks away from the ponds. Regular readers will recall that, last month, the sixweek- old ducks were put out on the ponds and Andy had been conditioning them to come to a whistle at feeding time. This tactic has worked really well.
He is only feeding the ducks once a day because it is easy to over-feed and then end
up with fat, lazy ducks that are reluctant to fly and just lift off the ponds and then drop straight back in. Good driven ducks can make a challenging target if worked right, especially with a bit of wind up their tails. Andy had previously worked out where he needed to get the ducks and over the past few weeks he has been gradually feeding them further and further away from the ponds.
Ducks have a curious habit of walking out to feed and flying back to the pond, so logic dictates the further they have to fly back home, the stronger they will get and, ultimately, that is what is needed come shoot day.
A couple of weeks ago the wheat was cut and the stubble is going to be left over winter for the partridge when they arrive. The ducks are already enjoying clearing up the spilt grain and it has also meant that Andy can now get on top of the local fox population.
Earlier in the month the shoot experienced some strong winds overnight and Charlie took full advantage. Andy lost around 20 pheasant poults — the biggest loss since the birds arrived. Once the corn had been cut it was easier to get out at night with the lamp and in just 10 days he accounted for four foxes and has seen at least another couple skulking about.
There is still quite a lot of cattle feed maize growing on the farm as well as the maize cover crop and this still gives any prowling fox plenty of cover. But as the pheasants start to wander out from the release pens, it is even more important to keep on top of the pest species, especially as the first batch of partridge are due in any day.
Most of Andy’s time is spent dogging-in, a regular part of any gamekeeper’s day-to-day work at this time of the year, but on a small shoot such as Yeat Wood Farm it is vital. The land is surrounded by a couple of other shoots and on one particular boundary by a ‘non-shooting neighbour’. The pheasants seem to know that there is some kind of sanctuary on that side of the ground, so they have to be constantly encouraged away from that part of the shoot. Dogging-in also encourages the birds to fly, especially when pressured by a dog.
As the aim is to push them into the coverts or back towards the pens, they are being conditioned, much like the ducks, to go where they are needed ready for a shoot day.
A gamekeeper needs a good team of dogs at this time of the year and, as well as his five spaniels, Andy has Riley the cockerpoo. Though she might seem an unorthodox gundog, she has spent the past couple of seasons picking-up and is now proving to be a useful dogging-in dog.
Ideally, you don’t want a hard-going dog as it is all too easy for the poults to
The ducks have developed a habit of walking out to feed then flying back to the pond